Professionals in the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industries suffer from the absence of comprehensive, accessible, and standardized data about materials when making construction decisions.

A new project addresses that problem by sharing data of one standard that can serve as a guideline for the entire industry.

The Quartz Project, debuted in late October, is an open dataset that promotes the transparency of building materials and products. It is the first time that both life-cycle impacts and health hazards of building materials are included in a single database.

In the past, it was really hard for professionals like builders and architects to make decisions on building materials, because the existing data were disorganized and hard to analyze,” said Larry Kilroy of Healthy Building Network, at a Quartz project demo at Greenbuild in Washington, D.C. “With this project, we hope to bridge those gaps to help people make better decisions.”

screenshot via The Quartz Project
screenshot via The Quartz Project

There are currently 101 common construction products listed on Quartz. Under each product, information is disclosed in the same format that consists of general composition, impurities, health profile, environmental profile, and sources of information. Not only does Quartz include each product’s alternative names, it also  lists products in both Masterformat and Uniformat. In addition, the Quartz team gives out a product’s generic composition—rather than the one used by manufacturers that may be based on varied standards—to ensure conformity throughout the whole database.

For example, between the two types (BF Slag and Fly Ash) of ready mix concrete products available on Quartz, users can directly see how a product differs from another in specific metrics, such as acidification potential, smog formation potential, or primary energy demand. 

“We are not trying to say which product is better than the other,” said Vivian Dien, project lead of Quartz and associate product manager at Flux. “We just provide the information for users and let them pick the product that meets their need best.”

Quartz Project demo at the Greenbuild conference 
Quartz Project demo at the Greenbuild conference 

The idea of creating such a database first was conceived in spring 2014, and the first pilot was completed last fall. But the official project didn’t kick off until Jan. 2015, according to Dien. A total of four companies—Flux, Google, Healthy Building Network, and thinkstep—have teamed up to build out Quartz over the past year or two. 

Quartz’s data are available online free of charge for people to view and download. Methodology of the project is also disclosed online. By making it open and free, the team hopes that Quartz can help raise awareness about the environmental impact of building materials on health among the AEC industry and also the general public.

Moving forward, Dien said the Quartz team is not rushing to add more products to the list, but will instead listen to user feedback, and try to improve the current methodology. 

“With the base-line data we’ve developed, hopefully more people will jump in and start working on things that we haven’t addressed yet in Quartz,” said Dien.